Thursday, November 28, 2013

Movember: It's all about the moustache (and mental health)

As we near the end of Movember (Moustache and November slid neatly together), I thought I might highlight a book I've read recently that this strange month of growing moustaches is about--men's mental health.  I can quickly come up with 15+ books about teenage girls and suicide, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or anxiety but I pretty much came up with zilch for teenage guys.  Which is weird considering that for many years in the U.S., the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women.  Movember is all about men and their health--cancer, mental illness and healthy lifestyle are the main focuses but the general idea is to build awareness of mental health, to motivate guys to take care of themselves, and to destigmatize seeking medical help of any kind!  It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is just that--kind of a funny story about a teenage guy who is suffering from depression and fighting suicide.
You know those bumper stickers about books and movies?  "The book was better" or "Don't judge a book by its movie" or my favorite "Movies--ruining the book since 1895"?  Please take all of these sayings to heart, as this book really was much better than its movie!  We go inside the head and heart of Craig Gilner, a 15-year-old who used to think he was smart, but now that he has started his freshman year at the elite high school he busted his butt to get into, he feels less than special and sometimes (shockingly) stupid.  Does that sound familiar, UHS or Basis students out there?!

His mental state is not helped by his new hobby of smoking pot, nor does hanging out with his friend who is bf/gf with a girl he has secretly loved forever.  He goes through several therapists, finds a good one and begins to take antidepressants, only to stop when he starts to feel better.  This sends him spiraling down into a depression so deep he doesn't eat, can't sleep and eventually terrifies himself with thoughts of suicide.  He checks into a psychiatric hospital where he finally gets the help he needs, although the speed and depth of his change is annoyingly far from normal (the only major bad note for me).  The author Ned Vizzini does a good job, however, in giving us a character who can't stop his brain from thoughts he knows are irrational--as Craig explains it, “I work. And I think about work, and I freak out about work, and I think about how much I think about work, and I freak out about how much I think about how much I think about work, and I think about how freaked out I get about how much I think about how much I think about work.”  Vizzini spent time in psychiatric care when he was younger, and maybe the best part of his book is that mental illness is presented honestly, with humor and with hope.  Happy Thanksgiving all!

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